The non-profit Until We Are All Free creates space for the incarcerated to find community, opportunities, and their voice. Founder Kevin Reese says the organization grew from his own experience with incarceration.
“Particularly being an African American male who was incarcerated as a teenager, I spent 15 years from 18 to 32 inside of Minnesota correctional facilities. And even though you're in prison, you're still a human,” said Reese. “So I was struggling to become a human and say, ‘Okay, who do I want to be in the human family?’”
Reese decided he wanted to use what he learned from his experience to reform the system.
“I was like, Oh, actually, what I want to do is make sure that this experience that I'm going through–that no one else has to go through it,” said Reese. If I'm going to do these 15 years and keep my dignity, keep my head, then I'm going to make sure that my sons never do a day, my nephew's never do a da, my little cousins and anyone else that I could be connected to, would never do a day.”
“Until We Are All Free” got its name from a James Baldwin quote in his essay “My Dungeon Shook.” Reese says Until We Are All Free began as a consulting group, where those impacted by mass incarceration were contributors to the conversation.
“We have this issue of mass incarceration that's impacting all of us, and they've had decades to fix it and still haven't fixed it,” said Reese. “So now we have this, this truth of, well, we can't do it without the people who will be mostly impacted by it at the table. So it was our duty to say, ‘okay, we're coming to the table, but not only come in – but we need to create these tables, meet at these tables, and guide the direction of these tables.’ And guess what, we're also not doing it for free, we're going to be compensated just like any other expert person that you call in to help fix a human condition.”
Reese says “Until We Are Free” became a non-profit after inmates faced urgent needs amidst the pandemic and the global uprising from the murder of George Floyd.
“I had to create a mutual fund for them to make sure that I can send them money for vitamins, water, or supplies. I wanted to make sure that all of our folks had everything that they needed to shelter in place in their cell. And then, in 2020, the global uprising happened. And what happened then was this need for the justice impacted people to have a place all our own. It was my peers that said, hey, there is no place for us. Where do we go? So I established Until We Are All Free as a nonprofit to be the space for the justice-impacted folks to land, learn, and launch.”
Reese says people who have been victimized by the system can provide crucial insight into reforming the system.
“Because I believe that the issues that we see in the world, the solutions are embodied in bodies that we have locked inside of cages. So to not only unleash them–it’s not good enough to just free them. But we also need to free their dreams. That's what the human family is missing. We are a family that is walking around missing all of these other contributions to our family, our natural assets. And that's what Until We Are Free does.”
Kevin Reese says Until We Are All Free has been able to create partnerships to make positive changes for the incarcerated, as well as for himself. 5 years forward from sitting in a cell, he is a homeowner, a business owner, a father to be, a contributor to what he calls the human family, and his community.